Bump Tales- Janet Guthrie Hits a Wall Then Knocks Another One Down

Above: Janet Guthrie after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977, becoming the first woman to drive in the race.  Photo from Indystar archives.

On May 10, 1977, Janet Guthrie had to be wondering why she had entered the  Indianapolis 500.  In 1976, she couldn’t get up to speed. A. J. Foyt loaned her one of his backup cars for a shakedown test. She turned laps good enough to make the race. But it was just a test. The car she was assigned wasn’t fast enough.

Now, early in May, 1977, she had hit the wall. Her team, owned by Rolla Vollstedt, repaired the car, but a second weekend qualifying run looked more likely than the upcoming opening day of qualifying. She struggled to get above 179 mph. it would take a speed in the 180s to make the 1977 race.

Reader Marcia Ann Conder shared these two photos of her father, Larry Conder, assisting Guthrie after her crash. Conder was a fireman at IMS for 40 years. Thanks, Marcia, for the photos.60747620_2049092421885812_8734681045779087360_n

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Guthrie earned a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and began racing SCCA events in 1963. In 1976 she became the first woman to drive in a NASCAR superspeedway race, finishing 15 in the Charlotte World 600. Earlier in 1977 she entered the Daytona 500 and finished 12th, earning Rookie of the Year honors.

The week after Pole Day was a long one as the team searched for speed. The third day of qualifying passed with Guthrie next in line as the gun went off. She would be first in line on Sunday, Bump Day. The field wasn’t filled yet, so she just had to get in with the best speed possible without the added pressure of beating someone else’s time.

Guthrie qualified easily with an average of 188.403. Her time was the fastest of the day and she would start the race in the middle of row nine. Guthrie said had the car not crashed she could have easily qualified at 191 mph.

Within a year, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in both a NASCAR  superspeedway race and the Indianapolis 500.

Her spot in the field presented Tony Hulman with a dilemma. He needed to change the command to start the race. Hulman prefaced the traditional command with, “In company of the first woman to start at Indianapolis,” before “Gentleman start your engines.” In subsequent years, the command, when necessary, became, “Lady(ies) and gentleman, start your engines.”

The race itself was not great for Guthrie. A cranky engine had her making numerous pit stops. She retired on lap 74, finishing 29th. I remember the crowd cheered every time she drove past my section.

Guthrie race in just two more 500s, finishing ninth in 1978. She participated in 11 Indycar races overall with a best finish of 5th at Milwaukee in 1979.. Guthrie also drove a total of 33 NASCAR races. Her best finish was sixth at Bristol in 1977.

Eight other women have driven in the Indianapolis 500 since Guthrie’s rookie year. Danica Patrick is the only one to have led the race.

1977 capped a decade and a half of transitions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race went from roadsters to all rear engine cars, the front stretch was paved to just a yard of bricks, and speeds began to approach 200 mph. More changes would be coming. It would still take another 14 years before the last driver barrier would be broken.

ESPN will air “Qualified,” a 30 for 30 documentary about Janet Guthrie Tuesday, May 28,  at 9 pm EDT.

 

Bump Tales- 1965- Ward Misses 500 After Six Straight Top Fours

Photo from Indianapolis Speedway Museum website

Perhaps it was the switch to a rear-engine car.  Perhaps it was the car. In any case, two time Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward had a difficult time getting up to speed in 1965.  Ward, who reshaped his personal habits and driving style after the 1955 race, entered 1965 with a string of six consecutive top four finishes. His record from 1959-1962 is on of the best four year runs in the history of the Speedway. Ward won in 1959, was second in 1960 after a terrific duel with Jim Rathmann, finished third in 1961, then ran a steady race in 1962 to win again. He followed that streak with fourth in 1963 and a third in 1964.

Ward’s car, a rear engine Ford, had electrical issues the first day on track. The problems were resolved. but the car just wasn’t fast. It seems as if I just heard about this recently. The first qualifying weekend was a struggle for last year’s series runner-up.  Ward used two of his three attempts.  Both were waved off because the team knew the speed wouldn’t hold up. Sometimes teams waved off times that in the end would have been good enough to make the field. Ward’s speed was obviously not going to stand.

After another week of struggling in practice, Ward rolled out of pit lane on the second Saturday to begin his third attempt. On his third warm-up lap, he hit the outside wall in turn 2. The crew worked until 2 am Sunday morning to prepare for Bump Day.  Ward making the race would have been one of the great all time comebacks in qualifying lore.

With just one attempt remaining, Ward rolled out at 5:30 pm, needing to beat Bill Cheesbourg’s speed of 153.774. His first two laps were3 faster than Cheesbourg’s average, but the speed dropped in the second half of the run. Ward missed the 49th 500 Mile Race by .151 miles an hour.

As for Cheesbourg, he survived his second straight year on the bubble. the ;last driver to have aq chance at knocking him out of the race, Bob Mathouser, left pit lane at 5:55. He spun coming off turn four, and the gun went off during the clean up. It was Cheesbourg’s third time since 1957 of waiting until the final gun to make the race. It wasn’t the last time he would be in this situation.

The 1965 race was dominated by Jim Clark in the first rear-engine car to win the 500. Only three front engine roadsters made the race. Their days were numbered.

Ward returned in 1966 and qualified. The race began with an 11 car pileup in the first turn, resulting in a red flag. The rest of the race was a series of caution periods. Only seven cars were running at the finish. Ward finished 15th, completing 74 laps. The car was officially retired with handling problems, but I wonder if Ward  decided he had had enough.

At the next evening’s Victory Dinner, he tearfully announced his retirement from racing, because, “It just wasn’t fun yesterday.”

 

Tomorrow, Bump Tales concludes its 2019 season with a driver breaking a barrier.

The Front Row

I don’t normally get into historical statistics, but this front row fascinates me for several reasons. First Simon Pagenaud and Ed Carpenter are will make the3ir second straight front row starts on Sunday.  Their positions are reversed from 2018. Spencer Pigot’s car number, 21, is the switched number of last year’s third place starter, eventual winner Will Power, 12.

Cars starting in the front row have won 43 of the 102 Indianapolis 500s to date. The pole position leads with 20 victories, the middle of the first row has won 11 times, and the outside staring slot owns 12 wins. Some think the third spot is the best place to be at the start. It was somewhat advantageous in the roadster era, but I’m not sure it works with today’s cars and the jump the pole car seems to get.

It seems odd that all three front row cars carry a number in the 20’s. The top three with a little change in order could have been 20, 21, 22. The last time the entire front row consisted of cars all numbered in the 20s was 2013.  Carpenter (20) on pole, Carlos Munoz (26) in the middle, and Marco Andretti (25) stared on the outside.Carpenter finished 10th, Munoz second, and Andretti 4th.  From my research, that was the only other time the front row cars all bore numbers in the 20s.

I found some other notable cars numbered in the 20s that began the race in the front row, including some race winners- Dario Franchitti (27) in 2007; Emerson Fittipaldi (20) from the pole in 1989, back when he still drank milk. Floyd Roberts (23) won in 1938  also from the pole; and Mauri Rose (27) in 1947.

Fred Agabashian had two front row starts in 1950 and 1952 with car 28. he started second in 1950 and won the pole at a then record speed in 1952. Unfortunately, the Cummins Diesel did not fare well in the races. Agabashian finished 28th and 27th in those races.

I don’t know what the track has in store for these front row starters with the numbers in the 20s on their machines. History looks to be a mixed bag. i think we’ll see a couple of them up front near the end. one of them is looking to be my pick for the win.

 

 

Pagenaud Leads Short Session

Simon Pagenaud jumped to the top of the pylon with his last lap, jumping ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden. His fast lap was 228.441.  The Team Penske drivers nudged ahead of three Honda cars that had led most of the two hour practice. James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi each had the fast time for awhile. Hondas seemed more competitive in race trim than they did in qualifying.

Pagenaud said Rossi will be a force to be reckoned with on race day. He also mentioned that Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot will also be contenders. Pagenaud said the warmer temperatures predicted for race day will change the way the cars act.

Tony Kanaan said the times today are insignificant because no one knows what tire or fuel combinations anyone was running.

I have heard from a reliable, non-team related source that Juncos will have a sponsor on the car by race day. I will share all information when Juncos announces it.

Kudos to Clauson-Marshall and Pippa Mann

While everyone was talking about the efforts of Dragonspeed and Ben Hanley and Juncos and Kyle Kaiser, it seems Clauson Marshall Racing and Pippa Mann have been forgotten. This team  came together in The team owners are new to Indycar, which is always an issue. Their alliance with A. J. Foyt Racing helped, but still it was a great achievement to get the car in the race.

I will have more later tonight.

Quick, Well, Day After, Thoughts- Day 2 Qualifying

The format did provide drama. James Hinchcliffe and Fernando Alonso had to wait until the final two qualifiers ran to see if they made the race.

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James Hinchcliffe pauses as he gets out of the car his Sunday run. He seems to be wondering if the time will be good enough.

Some of the old Bump Day flavor was back with rumors swirling about deals and shared parts and information. the rain delay may have had something to do with it, but it was a fun atmosphere.

Every 100 years, a driver from France wins the pole. That’s not good news for Sebastien Bourdais.

Qualifying Weekend Tweaks

For next year I would like to see Bump Day  be a timed period, say 90 minutes, for cars not in the race to make a maximum of three attempts to make the field.

As far as the Fast Nine, it is a dinosaur concept intended to be filler when there were only 33 cars. It may be good for television, but I think an extended Bump Day as I proposed would be a better use of that brief network TV window. Let the pole winner be the fastest qualifier on Saturday. That’s your Saturday TV drama.

Limit cars to three attempts per day.  Several cars went out to use runs as practice time. If teams have exclusive use of the track, it should be for a serious run.

Other Thoughts

I was surprised that the track didn’t open for practice in the middle of Saturday afternoon.

Even in defeat, Fernando Alonso was gracious enough to come to the media center with Gil DeFerran to discuss their week.

Yesterday I think was the first time I nave ever seen Sage Karam smile. He was more at ease in interviews than I’ve seen him after his run. His best comment, referring to Hinchcliffe and the stress of the last two days, “I’m surprised James hasn’t had a heart attack yet going through this two years in a row.”

The new sealant seems to help dry the track quicker, which would be a good thing on Race Day. I just hope we never have to find out on that day.

I’ve seen some people say this year’s qualifying was a good argument for guaranteed spots. I  think it was a better argument against it. Would have great stories like Dragonspeed and Juncos with guaranteed spots? It would be hard if more full time teams join the series.

I have never seen so little attention paid to who wins the pole. I didn’t mind it. I think the pole should be decided first, like on Saturday. The true story of qualifying is in the smaller teams who make the field, sometimes at the expense of a bigger team or champion driver.

Today’s Schedule

Practice -12-2

Bronze badge holders have pit access today.

I will have a summary of the session later today.

 

 

A Weekend for the Little Guys

Above: Sage Karam celebrates making the race.

The Spirit of the Indianapolis 500 is the small teams who come here hoping to make the race in spite of huge odds. Ben Hanley and Dragonspeed comfortably made the field on Saturday. But today a new team with longer odds appeared and became the story of the week.

It was the last run for the last row. Kyle Kaiser, who had suffered a hard crash Thursday afternoon drove the rebuilt Juncos Racing car into the field, bumping two time world champion Fernando Alonso. Forty straight hours of work by the Juncos crew paid off as the backup car finally found the speed to make the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500.  The celebration on pit lane was pole winning, almost race winning worthy.

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Some of the crew who worked close to 30 straight hours to get the Juncos car ready after Kaiser put the car in the race.

Fernando Alonso could only watch as his chance to return to the 500 slipped away.

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Hinchcliffe first Out

Hinchcliffe went first in the Last Row shootout and had to watch as five other drivers tried to beat his time. James Hinchcliffe’s time stood up, and he returns to the field after being bumped last year.

Sage Karam was fastest of the six and will start 31st after a tense Saturday when the car just couldn’t find speed.

But today belonged to Kaiser and Juncos.  We’ll get to him in a minute. It is fitting that we’re spending more time talking about the last row than the pole winner. It has been that way since the entry list came out. The two biggest stories of the weekend involved the two smallest teams. That is how Indy should be.

Pagenaud Wins Pole; Penske’s 18th

Simon Pagenaud is quickly becoming another title contender. He backed up his win in the Indycar Grand Prix with three laps over 230 mph. Pagenaud is beginning to return to the type of driver he was when he won the season championship in 2016.

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Simon Pagenaud is the first driver from France to win the pole since Rene Thomas in 1919. Photo by Kyle McInnes

Ed Carpenter starts second. Carpente’r teammates, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones will line up third and fourth.  While it was a bit of a surprise not to see Carpenter on the pole, having his team starting together still shows a lot of strength. Carpenter did not seem too concerned about not winning the pole.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the fast Nine was Will Power.  The defending race winner  starts sixth after dropping four spots from his run on Saturday. Colton Herta is the fastest Honda in fifth. Sebastien Bourdais improved to seventh. Alexander Rossi dropped to ninth. I can’t recall this much movement in the Fast Nine in previous years.

Notes

As my friend George Phillips from Oilpressure pointed out, who made the race got more attention all week than who would win the pole. It was definitely like that today.

Gil de Ferran said McLaren will not be looking to buy their way into the race. “You have to earn it,” he stated. There were rumors floating today that McLaren had talked to some teams about that possibility. I will sign off for tonight with another of photo of Kyle Kaiser receiving congratulations after qualifying.

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I will have my quick thoughts on the weekend tomorrow. I guess they won’t be so quick but watch for them anyway. Thanks to everyone who followed along this weekend. m

 

 

Hinchcliffe Leads Rain Shortened Practice

James Hinchcliffe led a rain shortened practice session for the six cars still looking for a spot in the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. Hinchcliffe had a lap of 228.125. Sage Karam was next at 228.083.  Fernando Alonso was slowest of the five cars that were on track. at 220.009′

Kyle Kaiser did not turn any laps in the session that lasted just 20 minutes before the rain began.  The rain just returned as the track was nearly dry.

McLaren Options?

Should Alonso and McLaren not qualify, might they try to buy a ride?  There are rumors they are considering it.  I have never been a fan of drivers who don’t qualify buying their way into the field, as Michael Andretti did for Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2011.  Stay tuned.

Dragonspeed, Hanley to Focus on Indycar in 2020

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Ben Hanley (L) and Elton Julian talk about qualifying and the future of Dragonspeed

Team owner Elton Julian said plans are do as many or more races in Indycar next year.

“Commercially no other series is as viable as this one,” he said. “I’ve always been quick to step up to the next formula.”

Dragonspeed will stay involved in sports car racing, but cut back a bit’

Hanley on his first week here:

“The Rookie Orientation is amazing. It’s hard to not go over 205 but the program makes you stop and think about what you’re doing.”

Rain continues to fall and the schedule is on hold. I’m not optimistic about any running today. Should the rain stop now and not return, it will be at best 3 pm before the track dries.  I would look for the last row qualifying tomorrow before the final practice from 12-2.

I will keep everyone posted via @PitWindow on twitter and The Pit Window on Facebook for immediate weather updates and back here for any extended news.

 

 

 

IMS Sunday- Eyes on the Skies

The weather looks iffy as clouds are thickening in the southwest.  Fast Nine practice is scheduled to begin in about five minutes, but the last row cars are now practicing.

The cars still trying to make the race have a scheduled practice at 10:45 and then their qualifying session is at 12:15.  The order for the Last Row qualifications:

Hinchcliffe

Chilton

Alonso

Karam

O’Ward

Kaiser

The pressure will be more on the last three to go out as they will have a target speed to beat.

For the Fast Nine, cars go out in reverse order of yesterday’s results.  The field as it stands after yesterday:

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Back later with an update.